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American English

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The American variant of English has been very thoroughly described by many prominent scholars both in this country and in the USA. In this book, however, we shall try to follow the conception introduced by A.D.Shweitzer in his sociolinguistic approach to the treatment of contemporary speech situation in America (38).

The sociolinguistic situation in the United States is very complicated. It is moulded by certain linguistic, cultural, historic, demographic, geographic, political and other factors.

Generally speaking, the situation in the USA may be characterized as exoglossic, i.e. having several languages on the same territory, the balance being in favour of American English.

It is true, of course, that the formation of the American Standard underwent the influence of minorities' languages, but its starting point was the English language of the early 17th century. However, time has passed, American English has drifted considerably from English English though as yet not enough to give us ground to speak of two different languages. Thus we speak of the national variant of English in America.

American English shows a lesser degree of dialect than British English due to some historical factors: the existence of Standard English when first English settlers came to America, the high mobility of population, internal migrations of different communities and so on. As regards pronunciation, however, it is not at all homogeneous. There are certain varieties of educated American speech. In the USA three main types of cultivated speech are recognized: the Eastern type, the Southern type and Western or General American.

10. The Eastern typeis spoken in New England, and in New York city. It bears a remarkable resemblance to Southern Eng
lish, though there are, of course, some slight differences.

11.The Southern typeis used in the South and South-East of the USA. It possesses a striking distinctive feature — vowel
drawl, which is a specific way of pronouncing vowels, consisting in the diphthongization and even triphthongization of some pure
vowels and monophthongization of some diphthongs at the expense of prolonging ("drawling") their nuclei and dropping the glides.

12.The third type of educated American speech is General American (GA),also known as Northern American or Western American spoken in the central Atlantic States: New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin and others. GA pronunciation is known to be the pronunciation standard of the USA. There are some reasons for it. GA is the form of speech used by the radio and television. It is mostly used in scientific, cultural and business intercourse. Also in two important business centres — New York and St. Louis — GA is the prevailing form of speech and pronunciation, though New York is situated within the territory where Eastern American is spoken, and St. Louis is within the region of Southern American. In this chapter we shall give an outline of GA accent. We will then point to differences between this accent and RP.


1. There is no strict division of vowels into long and short in GA, though some American phoneticians suggest that certain GA vowels are tense and likely to be accompanied by relative length: [t] in seat, [u:] in pool.

They also admit that a slight rise in tongue position during the pronunciation of tense vowels leads to a diphthongal quality of tense vowels which contrasts to a monophthongal quality of lax vowels.

13. Classification of vowels according to the stability of articulation is the most controversial subject in GA. Some diphthongs are treated in GA as biphonemic combinations. The inventory of GA diphthongs varies from three to twelve phonemes. Following D.A.Shakhbagova (73) we distinguish here five diphthongs in GA: [ei]r [ai], [01], [аи], [оо].

14. Another very important feature that causes different interpretations of diphthongs and vowel length in GA is the pronunciation of [r] spuhd between a vowel and a consonant or between a vowel and a silence: turn [1з:гп], bird [b3:rd], star [star].

It has been estimated that 2/3 of American population pronounce [r] and 1/3 omit it. Thus GA is rhotic in words like far, core, etc. (when [r| follows the vowels and ends the word), this sound is consonantal and non-syllabic according to Ch. Thomas. It involves the characteristic hindering of the free flow of breath which we associate with consonants. The sound [r] in far closes the syllable more definitely than in British Received Pronunciation of the word [fa]. On the other hand, there is a vocalic, or vowel-like and syllabic [r], that occurs in words like bird, murmur (after a vowel and before a consonant). Ch.Thomas writes that in such cases we should better transcribe the words bird and murmur like [brd] and [mrmr]. In such cases [r] is responsible for the characteristic vowel-like quality within the syllable; it is responsible for syllabic quality as well. That's why Ch.Thomas says that [r] syllabic in bird and [r] non-syllabic in far should be transcribed differently. According to V.A.VassUyev it is still the vowel of the word .that forms a syllable ([з:] in bird, [o:] in corn, etc.), not the syllabic [r] sound. He mentioned although that all the vowel sounds in pre-[r] position sound more like [э]. [г] gives the preceding vowel a retroflex colouring. It means that the tip of the tongue glides to the retroflex position without, however, staying there long enough to produce a full-fledged retroflex [r] sound, [r] also prolongs the vowel a little. V.A.Vas-silyev uses the term "[r]-compensating" vowels (suggested by A.L.Trakhterov) for the vowels in such words in British Received Pronunciation.

4. One more peculiar feature of pronunciation of vowels in American English is their nasalization, when they are preceded or followed by a nasal consonant (e.g. in such words as take, 'small, name, etc.). Nasalization is often called an American twang. It is incidental and need not be marked in phonemic transcription.

5. GA front vowels are somewhat different from RP. Vowels
[t], [i] are distributed differently in GA and RP.

In words like very, pity GA has [t] rather than [i]. In word fi nal "position it is often even diphthongized.

Vowel [e] is more open in GA. It also may be diphthongized before lp], [t], [k]:7ef [le't].

38.There are four mixed or central vowels in GA: [з], [э], [л], [a]. They differ markedly from RP vowels in articulation and dis tribution.

39.The three RP, vowels [о], [ж], [ее] correspond to only two vowels in GA — [a] and [ж]. This combined with the articulatory differences between RP [d] and GA [a] and a difference in vowel distribution in many sets of words makes it very complicated. The following chart vividly shows it:


Dad [as] [ж]

dog [d] [a]

path [а] [ж]

dance [о:] [ж]

half [а:] [ж]

Besides, word distribution of [o:], [d] in RP and GA is completely different. GA [o] is intermediate in quality, between the RP [o:] and [o]. In its production the lips are considerably less rounded.

8. Now to the qualities of GA diphthongs.

40.the diphthong [ei] is closer in GA as opposed to RP;

41.very front realization of [зо) such as in RP is not found in GA;

42. the nucleus of [аи] tends to be more advanced in GA;

d) since GA is a rhotic accent with non-prevocalic [r], it has the consequence that the following RP vowels (derived historically from vowel + [r]) do not occur in GA: [is] in dear — GA [dir], [еэ] in dare — GA [deir], [оэ] in tour — GA [tur].


49. The RP allophonic differentiation of [1] does not exist in GA. all positions [1] is fairly dark.

50. Intervocalic [t] as in pify is most normally voiced. The result is neutralization of the distribution between [t] and [d] in this position, i.e. latter, ladder. The original distinction is preserved through vowel length with the vowel before [t] being shorter.

In words like twenty, little [t] may even drop out. Thus winner and winter, for example, may sound identical.

51. GA [r] is articulated differently from RP one. The impresssion is one of greater retroflexion (the tip of the tongue is curled back further than in RP).

52. The "wh" spelling is represented in GA by [м] sound (or sometimes transcribed as [hw]. So most American speakers make a clear distinction between "wh" and "w" words: where ware, which witch.

53. The sonorant [j] is usually weakened or omitted altogether in GA between a consonant (especially a forelingual one) and [it] as in the words: news [nu:z], Tuesday [4u:zdi], student i'studant], suit [sut], tube [tub], stupid ['stupid], during ['dtrnn].

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